Lawsuit: Tennessee employee health insurance plan discriminates against transgender enrollees

By: - May 26, 2023 4:00 am
(Anne-Marie Miller/Getty Images)

(Anne-Marie Miller/Getty Images)

Two transgender women have filed suit against the state after being denied gender affirming care under Tennessee’s public employee health benefits program.

Gerda Zinner, an academic advisor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Story VanNess, a former Knox County special education teacher, each say they were unlawfully discriminated against by being denied coverage of gender-affirming surgeries their medical teams deemed necessary, the lawsuit said.

Under the terms of the state health benefits plan, “surgery or treatment for, or related to, sex transformations” is excluded from coverage. The plan insures 290,000 state employees, dependents and retirees.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the excluding such care is discriminatory and unconstitutional; the suit is asking the court to enjoin the state from continuing to bar coverage of gender affirming care.

“Care that would otherwise be covered as medically necessary is denied coverage solely because it is for a ‘sex transformation,’” the lawsuit said “Even the very same procedures that are covered when cisgender people need are denied to transgender people when needed because they are transgender. Thus, by design, the exclusion affects only transgender people, and only because they are transgender”

Filed Wednesday in the Middle District of Tennessee, the lawsuit is at least the second legal action taken against the state over transgender care in recent weeks.

In April, three Tennessee families filed a legal challenge to a newly enacted law — not yet in effect — that bans all forms of gender-affirming care for transgender youth under the age of 18.  Each family has a transgender teen currently receiving gender affirming care. The U.S. Department of Justice has since joined the lawsuit, which is seeking an immediate injunction preventing the law from taking effect July 1.

Both Zinner and VanNess had been living openly as transgender women but each suffered from gender dysphoria, an acute sense of distress experienced by some people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, the lawsuit said.

Each were denied coverage of gender assignment surgery by the health plan’s administrators after it had approved by their doctors .

The state employee benefits plan currently insures 290,000 state employees, dependents and retirees.

Gerda Zinner/ Story VanNess Lawsuit by Anita Wadhwani on Scribd

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.